Therese Fowler's new novel, Exposure, was inspired by her own son's arrest for texting explicit photos of himself to a friend. This well-told, fast paced story is a great read and a thoughtful look into a topic that's getting lots of press lately. Here's more from Therese:
Jennifer Haupt: How is this novel a departure from your previous two published novels?
Therese Fowler: In genre terms, Exposure is more mainstream than my first two novels, which were categorized as "women's fiction." It's also being considered a YA (young adult) crossover novel, meaning that although it's adult fiction, it's expected to appeal to readers of YA fiction as well. The distinctions of what makes a book one genre or another can sometimes be a bit muddy, but generally it's a matter of projecting who the audience will be, which is a judgment that's based on the subject matter. "Mainstream" is the cleanest label for a book that draws readers of both sexes, and from a wide age-range.
JH: What inspired you to write this novel?
TF: The novel was inspired by my own son's arrest for what's come to be called a "sexting" crime. He was nineteen at the time. I was astonished that what he'd done-sharing a photo of himself naked with a girl who was almost seventeen-could be considered criminal, and could potentially result in his having to register as a sex offender! I began researching the issue and came across a number of news articles about sexting and teens and criminal charges. Some of the outcomes of those situations were simply ridiculous; others were tragic.
When I realized that I was in a unique position to explore this issue in story terms, and in doing so possibly prevent future crises, I felt obligated to do it. In fact, I set aside a different novel, which was under contract, in order to write what became Exposure.
JH: You wrote two novels before Souvenir sold. Have you/would you go back to one of those first novels and revise it to try again?
TF: The first of those: no. It was an effort to join the chick-lit train, which was just leaving the station at that time. It was a little too serious to be chick lit, but not quite serious enough for women's fiction, and a little too young-adult to be adult, and a little too adult to be young-adult, and, well, I think you get the picture. I refer to that book as my "practice novel," but have no interest in revisiting its story. That book served its purpose: I learned that I could write an entire novel-length story; I learned how to query literary agents; I learned (from feedback) that I had some writing talent and that I should keep at it. The fact is, most first novels aren't ready for publication, but for all kinds of reasons they're necessary efforts.
The second unpublished novel: yes I would revisit it, and I have, sort of. That's the book I was working on when the inspiration for Exposure came to me. I chose to put it aside and write Exposure in its place, but I plan to take a look at it again sometime soon. I didn't take much from the original, so I'm not sure that I can even call it a revision of that second book, strictly speaking; rather, I'd say I've revisited the setting, some of the characters, and some of the themes, but I've put them to work in a different plot.
No writing effort is ever wasted. At the very least, it's practice, and a writer never knows when he or she might usefully cannibalize an earlier effort for something new.
JH: Is there a theme that runs through all of your work?
TF: I've discovered that are a few themes you'll find in all of my work-a fact that intrigues me, since I didn't set out to write any of them with any particular theme in mind. It's only now, with a total of eight completed manuscripts under my belt, that I can really see what it is I'm "about" as a novelist.
My stories seem to always in some way explore mistakes and misapprehensions and the possibility of redemption-though that redemption doesn't always occur in expected ways. The mistake might be a naïve one made during youth that comes back to haunt a character later in life, or a mistake made now that sets unexpected events in motion, or a series of mistakes that result in a tragedy (as is the case in the book I'm writing now). What I'm interested in is how people then handle the fallout. Life is rarely a kiddie carousel ride-and who would want it to be?-so when troubles do occur, how do we find the strength or the grace needed to deal with them?
Another theme is love and loyalty. The stories ask their characters to "do for love what you would not do." Sometimes it's love, or loyalty, that leads to the mistakes the characters make, but it's also love, and loyalty, that lead to solutions. For example, in Exposure, Harlan Wilkes is an overprotective and in some ways overbearing father, and it's his actions that get the story boulder rolling, so to speak. Yet he's motivated by genuine love for his only child-a truth that becomes even more evident later in the story when another critical choice is before him.
Then, threading through all the stories are what I call my sociologist observations about modern culture and society, especially regarding the omnipresent media and the ways technology has infiltrated our lives. You'll see the dangers of modern technology at work as a sub-plot in Souvenir, a plot axis in Reunion, and the main plot in Exposure.
JH:Tell me about your work day.
TF: My creative workday starts with strong breakfast tea and a few minutes of journaling, both of which help me get my head in the story. So much of story-building for me involves immersing myself in the character and situation I'll be working on, just the way an actor does when playing a role. I write until the point when I begin to feel like I'm hauling anvils up a hill, and then I save my work and tend to things that don't require creative energy.
JH: How, if at all, has your degree in sociology helped you in developing characters?
TF: I think all novelists are sociologists to some degree, even if not formally trained. That training, though, has probably given me a broader understanding and keener awareness of the kinds of issues that concern sociologists: class, culture, race, gender, social institutions such as marriage and family, as well as formal institutions such as the legal and education systems. All of these things influence the ways people see their world, which in turn influences the choices they make. When I construct my characters, I try to render them as realistically as I can, using these bases along with what I imagine each character's unique psychology to be.
JH: What's the one true thing you learned from Amelia and Anthony, the teenage couple in Exposure?
TF: They demonstrate that passion is everything in life. If we love what we do, and we love who we are, we will have the fortitude we need in order to get through whatever life throws at us.
Therese Fowler is the author of Exposure, Souvenir, and Reunion. She holds a BA in sociology and an MFA in creative writing from North Carolina State University, where she also taught undergraduate creative writing before leaving to write fiction full-time. Her work is published in nine languages and is sold world-wide.